320 pp Spectrum uitgeverij maart 2013

ISBN 9789000316076

Click here to order the book

The key sentence in this Dutch language book is: “I was not interested in operetta. I was not interested in Lehar” (page 26). And the author could have added: “I was not interested in history either.” And it must be said clearly, he brilliantly proves his point. His title is a programme in itself: “Hitler’s composer”. Someone -like Bosveld-  not interested in Lehar can only deduce from the title of the book the composer wrote marches, waltzes, hymns or even whole operettas in Hitler’s service and honour; was well paid and responded by writing hits like “Deutschland erwache”; “Bomben über Engeland” etc. In reality Lehar never wrote one single note exulting Hitler. A serious historian therefore would have called such a book: “The music Hitler preferred” which is abysmally different from “Hitler’s composer”; a title only chosen for sensational purposes. The book no doubt is inspired by a typical Dutch obsession. It is once more an attempt at redemption to atone for the killing of 80 % of the Netherlands’Jews by the Germans. In a sixty year old Dutch tradition anyone who has sinned  in not being a staunch resister to the Nazi tyranny has to be declared guilty with every human weakness he may have exposed (or not exposed); always implying oh if the heroic author of the book had been alive at the time, the Dutch would have been in Berlin in three days instead of the Germans being in Amsterdam. Almost all Dutch children nowadays believe the second world war was started for one purpose only: the mass murder of Jews.  One of the results of this never ending after the war heroism is the plethora of Dutch books that keep appearing “lest we should forget” This is one of the latest in the series. The author “discovered” that 68 year Lehar did not join the resistance when Hitler annexed Austria and cannot understand the  behaviour of the composer who did not take any pains at all to get the release of one of his best libretto writers: Fritz Löhner aka Beda. This “discovery” had been already discussed by Lehar’s many biographers like Bernard Grün (in 1970) and more recently by Stefan Frey (the best) and Franz Endler. They all agree that Lehar was not the most heroic of men; that he was mainly interested in keeping his fame and fortune when the Nazi’s entered Vienna; that he was afraid for his Jewish wife. Indeed Lehar was an opportunist like many artists when confronted with a murderous regime.  Bosveld nevertheless succeeds in scaling new levels of political correctness when he lambastes a 68 year old man for not migrating. At the time the life expectancy of a man was 56 years; therefore Lehar was considered to be an old man. He had written his very last operetta four years earlier and apart from reworking his Zigeunerliebe he would not compose anymore.


(the composer and his wife after the war)


Is this a book without any interest at all ? I wouldn’t say so. Some of the details Bosveld give are new. I’ve always doubted Lehar’s explanation that he couldn’t undertake any action as his wife was in mortal danger. Bosveld tells us how Hitler and Goebbels immediately took care of that so no one would pester Sophie Lehar. Lehar’s story that two policemen arrived to arrest his wife is highly improbable. In exchange Lehar offered his services as conductor in many concerts for the German army. The author has interesting things to say on the (Jewish) blackmailer who threatened Lehar with some sex photographs; a painful  and long problem for the composer till the moment the Germans entered Austria and immediately came to Lehar’s rescue in the way one can easily imagine. But even in the best pages of this book there are lingering doubts on Mr. Bosveld’s use of sources. He quotes Vera Kalman’s memoirs on the so called cowardice of Lehar. He has clearly not consulted Kevin Clarke’s authoritative book on “Emmerich Kalman und die transatlantische Operette” which proves that Mrs. Kalman was an unashamed liar in every utterance she made in her book.  I too cannot say I like the author posturing as a hero in his own book while researching the story. A biographer strong on sources doesn’t need to ask himself every two pages: What did Lehar think at that moment ? Did Lehar see what I see ? Did he witness the arrival of x and why ? Either one knows or one doesn’t.


But the main problem with the book’s believability is the astounding number of mistakes. Bosveld tells us all performances of Lehar music were suppressed as Alfred Rosenberg, the main Nazi ideologue, put the composer’s  name on a black list due to the number of his Jewish collaborators. This is simply not true. That black list was an internal party list and not an official one published by the competent department of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who did not think for a moment to imply a ban on Lehar. German theatres for a few years were unsure as to whose works were acceptable and whose not. But even two years after the Nazi’s took power some German theatres still performed operettas by Jewish composers as Kalman, Jarno, Jessel and Berté. So Lehar’s operettas continued to be performed though Lehar’s last operetta Giuditta was only premiered in Germany in 1939 as the tenor hero is a deserter from the Italian army. This is not the last of the many mistakes and distortions in this book. On the first page it starts with “Field Marshall Goering”(p.7). Der Dicke, as he was nicknamed, was “Reichsmarschall” and thus superior to every other field marshall (and made Hitler’s successor). Fritz Löhner-Beda who died horribly in Auschwitz, was not the author of Valencia (p.22), “a Weltschlager Hitler and Goebbels listened to”. José Padilla wrote the music for the zarzuela La bien amada to a libretto by De la Prada from which Valencia was culled by Paul Whiteman, Tito Schipa etc. It is well possible Löhner wrote a German translation but that’s something quite different from being the author of a world hit. There was nothing “mysterious” to imperial Russia as Bosveld writes. The country was widely travelled by European and American visitors. Only when Lenin and his thugs got the country in their claws after a putsch, did communist Russia become mysterious. Bosveld states that after Strauss, Suppé and Millöcker disappeared operetta was moribund. He probably has never heard of Edmund Eysler, Richard Heuberger, Paul Lincke, Carl Zeller and Carl Ziehrer who celebrated triumphs before Lehar’s Die Lustige Witwe was premiered and I limit myself to German language composers. One reads that Franz Ferdinand, successor to the Austrian-Hungarian empire and murdered in Sarajevo, was Franz Joseph’ son (p.57) while everybody knows the emperor’s only male offspring was crown prince Rudolf (remember Mayerling). Franz Ferdinand was the emperor’s nephew. The story of the first world war is definitely not Mr. Bosveld’s speciality. France did not declare war on Germany. Vice versa is what happened. And the UK (not England) did not declare war on Germany because it was its duty as an ally of Russia. It did  because Germany had invaded Belgium and the UK shuddered at the thought of Germany being master of the Flemish seaports of Antwerp, Zeebrugge and Ostend. Mr. Bosveld claims he has read newspapers writing articles on heroic battles in the Crimea peninsula. No battle was fought there until the start of the Russian civil war. There were several operetta theatres in Berlin after the war but not  dozens of them as Bosveld thinks.(79). And nobody with the slightest knowledge of singing and singers has ever called the  lyric voice of Richard Tauber a “heldentenor” (p.82) . Real world famous tenors like Gigli, Martinelli, Lauri-Volpi or Schipa would be highly surprised to learn that a tenor of only Central European repute was the “unassailable god of European tenors (p.82). Tauber’s colleague Joseph Schmidt was not an operetta tenor (p.185). He had barely two operetta roles in his repertoire compared to more than 40 operatic parts. Victor Klemperer did not warn Europe against Nazism (p.100) but his secret diaries written during the regime’s tenure are now one of the most important sources of the time. And Richard Strauss was not “a Viennese like Lehar” (p.101) but came from Munich and was a Bavarian and not an Austrian composer (p.104). The lady who created Die Lustige Witwe was Mizzi and not Lizzi (p.112) Günther (and not Günter). The world was not startled ( p.136) in January 1946 by Eichmann’s escape from a prisoner camp because almost no one at the time had heard of that relatively low ranked officer who was a coordinator and not the architect of the Shoa. Arthur Seiss-Inquart was not ordered by Hitler to prepare the annexation of Austria (p.140). Hitler wanted him to head a satellite state. Only when the Führer was hysterically welcomed in Austria he decided on the spot to incorporate the country of his birth into Germany. According to Bosveld an important civil servant (no name given) visits Richard Strauss after the annexation of Austria to complain of Lehar. It may be true but it is definitely not true that Strauss at the time was still president of the Reichsmusikkammer (p.156); a function from which he was already ousted in 1935.The author did not even take pains to read the summery of the few Lehar works he mentions. Zorika (p.161) in Zigeunerliebe is not a gypsy girl as Bosveld writes; quite the contrary. Everybody is shocked because this daughter of a Rumanian nobleman falls in love with a gypsy violin player. Lehar’s Der Zarewitsch was inspired by the quarrels between emperor Peter the Great and his son but is not set at the court of this emperor (p.165) but during the time of Alexander III or Nicolas II, more than 150 years later. The infamous Nürnberg laws did not start the anti Jewish measures (p.179) but were meant to coordinate the numerous unofficial measures by all kinds of people since 1933 and to turn chaos into a coordinated persecution. American readers will be surprised to learn that Hitler on the evening of the 7th of December was musing on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour one day earlier (p.187). When it is  8 p.m.  in Europe it is only 8 a.m. in Hawai; therefore the Japanese attack had just started.. Hitler did not play with the idea of deporting Jews to Siberia (p.192) but for a moment thought of Madagascar. “Das Wunschkonzert” was not a permanent radio broadcast as the author seems to think (p.195). It started in October 1939 and was stopped in May 1941; even before the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Wannsee Conference did not decide to murder all Jews (p.228) but took measures to coordinate the killings (by that time in January 1942 more than one million of Jews had already been murdered in Eastern Europe). And Alma Schindler, Mahler’s wife, was not Jewish. Mr. Bosveld is indeed correct when he states “I was not interested in Lehar, was not interested in operetta.”

Jan Neckers